By  on June 15, 2009

JA Apparel Corp., the company that owns the Joseph Abboud brands, is continuing its shift from manufacturer to brand manager with the announcement of three major licensing deals.

The initiatives are with Modextil Inc. for sportswear, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. for neckwear and Ike Behar for dress shirts. The moves will enable the company to focus on its heritage clothing business, which it manufactures domestically.  

“This will allow us to take a laser focus on the tailored-clothing business — what we do best,” said JA Apparel chief executive officer Marty Staff. “We’ve found partners who are experts in their field and will help drive profits for the brand.”

Known as a tailored-clothing brand, JA Apparel has ramped up its product offering in the last five years, producing denim, accessories, luggage and a lower-priced line, Joe Joseph Abboud, via licenses. However, it continued to make sportswear and furnishings in-house. The brand also inked a number of master licenses for distribution in foreign markets such as India and China.

Staff said as the economy has slowed and retail partners demand more from vendors, JA Apparel had to consider licensing. “The strength we enjoy in clothing, these [licensees] have in their respective category,” he said. “Frankly, they will be able to compete in these areas better than we can.”

Furnishings and sportswear have penetrated only 30 percent of the doors where the brand’s clothing is sold. Staff said licenses could help get the categories into additional doors.

The move marks JA’s steady shift from manufacturer to brand manager. “Five years ago, you could be a generalist, but today you no longer can,” Staff said. “Wholesale will be less of a focus. We’re becoming experts in brand building.”

The deal with Ike Behar, which calls for product for fall 2009, will give the Behar family a shirt range more modestly priced than its eponymous line. “This new association with Joseph Abboud allows us to expand our business to a broader segment,” said Alan Behar, president. The deal was orchestrated partly through John Fowler, the former creative director for Joseph Abboud, who now consults for Ike Behar.

Joseph Abboud neckwear, produced by PVH, which also manufactures furnishings for Joe Joseph Abboud, will hit stores this fall.

Sportswear, made by Modextil, a privately held Canadian company best known for its contemporary brand Report, is to launch for holiday 2009.

The shift is also prompting JA Apparel to leverage its tailored clothing expertise. It has begun producing private-label clothing and has signed contract work for another men’s wear brand, which Staff declined to name. Suit licensing deals may also be in the offing.

The licensing partnerships are the second major shift in strategy for JA Apparel this year. Earlier this spring, the company signed a deal with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. that gave the retailer exclusive distribution for its Joe line — a move that provided the brand with a strong foothold in the moderate tier.

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